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Black Coal…Black Workers

Black coal miners date back to slavery. The first Unions formed in West Virginia  included black coal miners. Today a coal miner makes about $85,000 a year. That is good money – especially in he mountain regions of West Virginia. Coal is dying though as an industry due to pollution.

First…A little bit of history –

Most slaves from present-day West Virginia lived in the Eastern Panhandle counties, but a substantial slave population existed in the Kanawha Valley. Due to the decline of plantation agriculture in the 1800s, slavery was no longer as profitable in the east and slaves were frequently hired out or sold. The salt industry was driven by poor white transients and slave labor, often leased from eastern Virginia. This was the first significant introduction of slavery into western Virginia because salt was the first major industry to develop. In fact, by the 1800s, slave labor was rarely used in areas that did not rely heavily upon industry. Similarly, industrialization in the late 1800s and early 1900s would later bring many transient African Americans into the state.

Of the slaves in the Kanawha Valley, half were owned or hired by salt firms. Forty percent of these slaves were used to mine coal for the salt works because they could be hired from their owners for much lower wages than white laborers demanded. These slaves were usually leased and insured rather than bought due to the risk of death or injury in the coal mines.

In 1863 West Virginia separated from Virginia.  West Virginia placed a greater emphasis on funding white schools than it did black schools. The African- American community took it upon itself to create the first schools in the state for blacks. In 1862, a year before the state’s creation, a black school was opened in Parkersburg. In 1866, the state agreed to take over the Sumner School, making it the first publicly financed black school in the entire South. Black schools sprang up in other towns, including Charleston, Clarksburg, Fairmont, Grafton, Keyser, Lewisburg, Malden, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Piedmont, Point Pleasant, Ronceverte, Shepherdstown, Union, Weston, Wheeling, and White Sulphur Springs. There was a growing need for individuals to teach the increasing number of black students. Storer College, established at Harpers Ferry in 1867, was comprised of two components, a grammar school and a normal school for the training of teachers. In the 1890s, the state created two additional black normal schools, West Virginia Colored Institute (later West Virginia State College) and Bluefield Colored Institute (later Bluefield State College).

Coal was King, and it was mined as far South as Alabama. From 1880 to 1904, 10 percent of Alabama’s state budget was paid by leasing (mostly black) prisoners to coal companies.

As a history tidbit – The original “Mother Jones” was a Union organizer at the Pocahontas Mine in Tazwell, Va. She would help organize coal fields in West Virginia in the Kanawha Valley. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, led striking miners. Jones, a native of Ireland, was already a major force in the American labor movement before first coming to West Virginia during the 1897 strikes. Although she reported the year of her birth as 1830, recent research indicates she was probably born in 1845. As a leader of the UMWA’s efforts to organize the state, Jones became known for her fiery (and often obscene) verbal attacks on coal operators and politicians.

Among the elected delegates to the founding UMWA convention were at least five African American miners. By 1900 approximately 20,000 black miners had joined the union, representing about 20% of UMWA membership.

One of the best known African-American UMWA members was Richard L. Davis, who mined coal in West Virginia and Ohio. A delegate to the founding convention in 1890, Davis later served as a UMWA organizer in Alabama, Ohio and West Virginia, and was twice elected to the UMWA National Executive Board.

 

This is drift mining with a continuous mining machine. Notice the cut is only 3-4 feet tall, and the tunnel is not tall enough to stand in.

In W.Va., fortunes of black minority fall along with coal

Coal Miners in 1920’s West Virginia Kanawha Valley

Buck Wade wanted to be just like his dad. His father, a widower, raised five children on a coal miner’s salary, working long hours and in his free time teaching the kids to cook and clean house. At 17, Wade got his first job in the mines. It was 1943, and he was so anxious to work underground that he lied about his age on the application form. No one cared. His father took him on as an apprentice, and Wade made 23 cents for every ton of coal he mined. “I was just as happy in the mines as I could be,” he says.

Wade grew up in Keystone, a busy town in McDowell County, West Virginia, unusual for its racial diversity and the economic power of its black residents. Though the county was an anomaly in that sense, residents here, like elsewhere in the region, were ensconced in the world of coal. That’s what brought Wade’s dad to the state — he’d walked all the way from Montvale, Virginia, to the West Virginia community of Edmond, the old man always said — along with thousands of other African-Americans.

Coal was booming, and work was plentiful. By the 1930s, the industry employed 400,000 miners, 55,000 of whom were black. African Americans were restricted to more physically demanding positions requiring less skill, earning30 percent less than whites. But their wages were still high by national standards: $118.30 per month, according to one 1929 survey. By contrast, a national study in 1939 later found that black men earned an average income of $460 per year.

By the 1950s, African Americans made up 24 percent of McDowell’s population, compared with 6 percent statewide. Locals came to refer to the area as “the Free State of McDowell.” Black doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs also flocked to the county, drawn to the promise of a better life. Even in the Jim Crow era, unions in the area were integrated, blacks in West Virginia enjoyed voting rights, and local political leadership included many people of color.

“Everybody had money,” says Clif Moore, a current state delegate for McDowell who was born in the county in 1949. “It was sort of like little New York. Like a little Manhattan. Everything was popping.”

But at mid-century, as machines began to take over the tasks of drilling and blasting coal and hauling it above ground, black miners were the first to lose their jobs. What had once been an all but certain gateway to the middle class began to close. African Americans fled the industry at even higher rates than whites; by 1960, the share of black workers in coal shrank to 6.6 from 12 percent a decade earlier. In 2014, the most recent year for which Bureau of Labor Statistics data are available, only about 2,500 blacks worked as coal miners, less than 3 percent of the total…Read the Rest Here

 

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2016 in Black History, The Post-Racial Life

 

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The New Jim (Recession) Crow – Older Educated Black Workers Hit Hardest

Unemployment in America is increasingly becoming targeted towards older, more experienced workers – with the people with skills being the first to lose their jobs, and the last hired. When you add the New Jim Crow to that, it has a disproportional impact on black Americans.

Recession hits older blacks in what should be their prime

America’s economic recession has hit African Americans who are middle age and older much harder over the last year than it has the general public, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the AARP.

In telephone surveys, more than twice as many African Americans ages 45 and older reported having trouble paying their mortgage or rent, having to cut back on medications and having borrowed money to pay living expenses in comparison to the general population.

Twice as many blacks also reported losing a job and having a spouse who either lost a job or had to take a second job. Nearly twice as many blacks had difficulty paying for essential items such as food and utilities.

These older, established black workers also lost their job-based health coverage at higher rates, were more likely to raid their retirement savings prematurely and provide financial help to their parents and children more often than their age-equivalent peers, the survey found.

The data reinforces what many experts have said for months: that the recession is really a depression for many blacks, particularly in areas where black unemployment has surpassed or hovers around 20 percent.

AARP Vice President Edna Kane-Williams said the disparities reflect the tough circumstances and tough choices blacks are making to survive the economic downturn.

“The recession has driven many African Americans to make hard choices now that may lead to serious problems down the road,” Kane-Williams said. “Raiding your nest egg or ending contributions, even in the short-term, will have long-term consequences because you will have less time to make up the losses.”

The troubling findings paint a gloomy financial picture for African-American workers during what should be some of their prime earning years, said Algernon Austin, who heads the Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute.

The data also bodes ill for the future of these workers, Austin said, since many are using their retirement savings to pay for living expenses, health care and education costs and to support adult children.

“These findings suggest we shouldn’t be surprised if we see increases in poverty rates for blacks 65 and older in the coming years because a number of them are spending down their retirement income to try to get past this Great Recession,” he said.

Equally troubling is that older blacks aren’t consulting financial planners or using the Internet for financial assistance at the same rates as their non-black peers. Instead, they’re relying more on financial advice from friends and family members.

The survey did find that blacks were more likely to be training for a job in a new field, looking for a job and taking part in job fairs.

Nationally, the black unemployment rate is 16.5 percent, compared with 9.7 percent for the nation as a whole. The jobless rate is 8.7 percent for whites, 12.6 percent for Hispanics and 8.4 percent for Asians.

“I would have no problem saying (blacks are) in a depression,” Austin said. “There are different technical definitions and debates about what is or isn’t a depression, but to me, when you have unemployment close to 20 percent or above, the community is economically depressed.”

The AARP survey was conducted by phone in January and involved a national random sample of 1,407 respondents, of which 405 were black. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points for the non-black respondents and 4.9 percentage points for the African-American sample group.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2010 in The New Jim Crow

 

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